You make games fun; they make fun games. Cognitive surplus enables new approaches to games, used by both gamers and developers to change our relationship with the games and the intellectual properties around those games. (Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here)
Interestingly, the ways in which gamers and fans can augment the experience go beyond modding or testing a game; they also can fund games and create experiences that exist beyond the realms of the games themselves (Cosplayers, anyone?).
Kickstarter, the crowd-funding site enables people to distribute the funding across millions of people, also gives the funders perks for contributing to the game, incentivizing the process (as if good games weren’t the only needed result). I’ve talked elsewhere about some of the potential problems of Kickstarter, but overall, I find it a very positive thing for the gaming world, as it gives some of the power back to the fans themselves. Now we get to decide where the money goes (and apparently most of it goes to Wasteland 2 and Double Fine Adventure).
What about the story of the Warballoon team? They wanted $20K, got more than $30K, and then they broke down for the viewing audience where that money actually went. They are still positive that Star Command will be made; it’s just that the actuality doesn’t necessarily match the potential. User expectations can create a sense of undue necessity.
Crowd-sourcing, and the increase in openness between developer and gamer could be increasing a sense of entitlement on the part of gamers (mentioned in a previous post and in passing on the Reverend’s review of Mass Effect 3). As this sense of ownership grows, is it necessarily a bad thing that there are gamers who feel jaded at the decisions made by the different publishers and developers out there? EA/Bioware has buckled/been nice before, and they’ll probably do it again, but where do you draw the line?
In the end, the fans, acting as unpaid interns, work to create a world around the game. The developers need the fans for funding, unpaid reviews, and word-of-mouth convos. Oh yeah, and for buying the games. Sometimes it seems as if there is something missing, though—a disconnect between the creators and the fans, and not the one that has existed in traditional arms of the publishing world.
Sometimes, it’s not an honest mistake of a developer not listening to the fans; it’s a developer/publisher acting as big brother. Erling Løken Andersen decided in December of 2011 to create some Fallout-inspired posters as fan art. Subsequently, he received a letter from a law firm representing Bethesda that he was to cease giving away the posters (he never sold them) and turn over his domain (fallout-posters.com) to Bethesda. (Read all about it here) While I understand the need for copyright owners to protect their property, in this day and age, it’s no longer enough to simply protect the content like it used to be protected prior to the internet age. Anderson’s retort was balanced and reasonable, and it reflects the mentality commonly held by many today that sharing and fan-creations (especially when not in direct conflict with an existing product) are a genuine expression of appreciation for quality IPs. Here you have a devoted fan who is basically advertising for the company for free, and he gets preemptively harassed. It doesn’t seem right.
Likewise, Hasbro went after an Australian blogger for discussing unreleased Nerf Guns (yup, you read that right). They contacted him and said that they needed his address so they could ship him some free stuff in appreciation for all of his blogginess, and then lawyers showed up instead. Here you have a dedicated fan, increasing visibility of a product line for other fans, and they bring in the big guns to take him down (I understand that there is some sort of supply chain screw up here, but still).
It’s almost as if some of these companies have forgotten that core fans, the ones that will spend their cognitive surplus on talking about and creating fan versions of their products actually increase the worth of said products. And they also forgot how important PR is…
What about Crytek’s position about the next generation of gaming consoles fighting piracy by blocking out used sales? When asked about the possibility that the next generation of consoles would prevent used sales, Rasmus Hojengaard, Crytek’s director of creative development said, “From a business perspective that would be absolutely awesome.” While selling used games may not be the most beneficial thing for the publishers, it is the gamers that this sort of thing ends up punishing. These are efforts directly aimed at destroying the unity and cooperation between gamers and creators. While I understand that the nature of used game sales is problematic to say the least, quality content gets bought on day one. Period.
You want to talk about something that scares developers? What about the networked nature of extremely smart gamers? Gamers know now when games come out with on-disc DLC. They’ll crack a disc, read the contents, and post it. They know when they feel fleeced by companies, and they are able to communicate with each other about it.
And they’re scared. But should they be?
This back-and-forth between gamers and creators is ultimately a good thing. We’ve never been able to be so open with companies, and they’ve never been as open as they are now. What does this mean for the future? Like Jeffrey “Qualitybeats” Demelo said on Twitter, when referring to The Walking Dead: Episode One: “Walking Dead is how I want to absorb…say…60% of my gaming experiences. Monthly, episodic, quality. Support a business model!” I believe that that’s a smart move, and it’s one that coud definitely result in positive gamer-feedback-integration.
Real time communications between fans and creators, updating data quickly and seamlessly, eventually ending in something akin to a broadcast model seems to be the way that we’re heading. Fans’ content will be embraced as an integral part of the process, one that companies see as enhancing their own content.
And then we can keep shooting aliens in the face. And that’s a really good thing.